Just Curious, as Far as Choosing Your Battles, Do You Battle Food with Your Kid?

Updated on August 24, 2011
J.X. asks from San Clemente, CA
20 answers

I do. Today we had french fries with our lunch and boy did they go down without a fight. I have to fight my kids to eat most anything I serve (because most of what I serve is healthy). These are foods I don't have to fight over but rarely give: frozen yogurt, dessert, fries, chips, hamburgers, gram crackers, gold fish, sweetened yogurt).
But no fighting when it came to fries. No siree. My daughter eats (with prompting and me giving her bites) asparagus, artichokes, fish, quiona, oatmeal, fruit.......you get the idea. Anyways, I realize that part of not fighting means to a degree giving up on healthy food and giving in to junk or semi junk food. I didn't birth children that eat raw broccoli without a fight. I know some of you have because I've read your posts, but God didn't give me those kids. I do realize why so many parents make pizza and chicken nuggets for their kids- it makes dinner easier! I get it. Today reading posts of what different moms were making for dinner I also realized that, well, a lot of people don't eat healthy. So I'm really not trying to pat myself on the back here. I guess I am just realizing and coming to terms with the fact that, as far as picking battles goes, I've picked food. i have an almost 4 year old that I have to spoon feed or bribe to eat much of anything on her plate 90 percent of the time. Just curious, any one else picked this battle? I concede that feeding kids the foods they really like makes sense, I get it. I'm not judging you moms who choose this route, so please don't judge me for wanting my kids to develop healthy taste buds. Just want to know who else fights this battle? Feeling alone.

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answers from Dallas on

I make a mostly healthy meal, with a side I know she'll eat. Tonight it was wings, green beans and velveeta shells and cheese. We make her at LEAST take a couple of bites of meat, and then her green beans and the macaroni gets spooned in no problem. If I'm making something that I know she'll completely ignore, I'll make her some eggs or a pbj.

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answers from Missoula on

I don't fight over food, but I don't cater to my kid either. Dinner tonight was pasta with homemade sauce and green salad. He didn't eat much. Guess he wasn't hungry. When I make a meal, and I make the vast majority of them, we don't eat out much, then that's what we are all eating. My 3 year old loves and happily eats a wide variety of food, including broccoli, Brussels sprouts and green beans, but I don't prompt him to eat them or feed him, he eats or he doesn't. If he eats and we have some sort of treat after dinner then he is welcome to join us, if he doesn't eat he must not have been hungry so there is no need for anything else.
Your post suggests that there are two options, bribe and spoon feed healthy food, or feed your kid junk. That is baloney. I want my sons to eat and enjoy healthy food, but I want mealtime to be a relaxing time to share a meal and connect with each other, not to force feed small people their green vegetables. I also don't want to send the message that food is a means of manipulating mom and dad--which is what you do when you bribe and coerce, so I pick option three, provide healthy food and let my kid eat without a battle.

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answers from Boston on

I don't fight any battles over food. I refuse to bride and cajole my little one (4 yrs old) into eating anything. If she's hungry she'll eat. We offer healthy meals 90% of the time. She eats tons of fruit and veggies (asparagus, zuchini, cukes, carrots, edamame), but also cheese, crackers. Nothing wrong with pizza - we use whole wheat crust, organic tomatoes and part skim mozzarella. She loves oatmeal, eggs, yogurt, tuna, grilled cheese, pasta, hummus, black beans, kidney beans. I know there are lots of philosophies on this, but it makes sense to me that pushing on food can backfire on you and cause eating disorders. She loves dunkin donuts and gets them on weekends after swimming. I love to see her enjoy her meals.

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answers from Dallas on

My approach is moderation in all things. My kids like mango, edamame, artichokes, fish, avocado, etc (and request these foods!). They also like pizza, chocolate chip waffles, and hot dogs. Kids need to learn how to make good food choices, and that doesn't mean forcing them to eat healthy all of the time. It's about balance. The best lessons are learned through experience. Do I limit junk food? Yes, and my kids get a little bit every day (just like me!). The best food consumption lesson my oldest son got was on a visit to his grandparents. Grandma let him eat a ton of junk food, and he got sick! He didn't touch junk food for days afterwards, and whenever he visits now, I just gently remind him about that incident, and he controls himself. I think it's important to honor my children by offering at least one thing I know they like with each meal, even if it's not uber healthy. Have you discussed this with your pediatrician? Maybe something else is going on...I just see red flags that a 4 yr old has to be spoon fed or bribed to eat. I have a kiddo with temperature and texture issues with food and for years it took an hour of me pushing him and spoon feeding him to get through every meal. But we've worked with OTs and now it minimally impacts his eating. And I worry about eating disorders down the road when food becomes a control issue. Hope it works out for you.

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answers from Oklahoma City on

I do not fight over food. I know that this leads to issues about food when the child grows to be an adult. When she is grown and lives on candy bars and french fries you'll know it is because she didn't get to eat those things as a child.

I know from research in college that when people are deprived of something they just crave it more and the first taste of freedom they get that is all they do, or in this case eat. I know I wasn't allowed to eat candy or drink pop as a child and when I went off to college that is what I lived on for the whole first year. A lot of us did it and that's what made me interested in researching it.

It is why diets don't work, they go without the foods they want just to sit and want them more.

I agree kids should eat healthier but my goodness, spoon feeding a 4 yr. old?

I think that it is perfectly fine to encourage our kids to make healthier choices but if it is a battle? No, I don't do it.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

Never battle with baby/child over food. Eating and eliminating (poop and pea) are the only things a child can control. Fighting will result in a power struggle which may very well affect their eating habits the rest of their lives.

I agree with Gamma G. You do not have to give up healthy foods. You fix the meal and they can choose whether or not to eat. If they don't eat, there's no food until the next meal. This is not a battle. It's natural consequences.

Later: Feeding picky eaters is frustrating. Perhaps that is what you mean by battle? It's painful to enforce no food until the next meal.

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answers from Washington DC on

I don't fight with food - ever.
I put the meal on the table. Eat it or don't. There is no dessert. There are no snacks. There is water until your next meal.
If you don't like the meal, there is an alternate: Peanutbutter (only) on wheat with one glass of milk. There is no dessert. There are no snacks. There is only water until your next meal.
My son ate a LOT of alternate meals. My daughter never ate one alternate meal.
If there is something new on the table that you've never had, I'd like you to try it. You only have to take one bite. If you don't like it, you don't have to eat any more. If you choose not to try it, so be it.
That said, if they went to a friend's house for dinner there were rules they had to follow: You will eat whatever they put in front of you and you will like it. You will eat whatever vegetable is there. You will not make faces. You will thank your hostess and you will clear your own plate.
My son learned to eat a lot of things by going to friends' homes. :-)

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answers from Kansas City on

well, kudos to you for providing healthy meals and snacks to your family. but your food battles really have very little, if anything, to do with that.

it's not the kinds of food you're giving them that are creating this battle. it's the fact that you are soooo invested in them taking that bite. they have ALL the control, and they're using it pretty expertly. stop feeling so combative about the food. it's their loss if they don't eat it. if you're providing healthy food all the time (or even 99% of the time), does it really matter if they eat their entire dinner, or get more during their afternoon snack? not really. rest easy. take the battle out of it.

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answers from Austin on

Food and meals are not things I like to fight over.. First of all, meals are special in our family.. It is sometimes the only time we have time all of us together.

I also know children will not starve.

I try to cook as much as possible.. When our child was in school, I cooked almost every weekday.

We always had a variety. Our daughter knew I would place things on her plate, if she wanted to try it great, if not it just sat there.. If she ate it, I would ask if she would like a little more.

I do not believe in making anyone try anything they do not want to try.. My father used to do that to us and one time, I kept telling him I was going to be sick , but he still insisted.. and yes, I totally gagged and vomited on the dinner table..

I have always had very sensitive taste buds, I can taste all sorts of flavors very strongly. Many children are just like this.. Certain food have very strong bitter odors, others can be extremely spicy and strong. And yet to some people they are fine..

On my own I learned to try all sorts of different foods. I love almost every veggie, meats cheeses.. etc.. but I also remember there were just some foods I could not tolerate.

As our daughter became older I totally included her in planning the meals. I always had at least one thing I knew she would eat (healthy) and then I would make a variety of other things. She is a "brave taster". we never put pressure on her. Our home has a variety of healthy foods and then snacks or treats, that we probably do not need. The healthy outweighs the not so healthy.

I also made a deal with the family.. At any meal if they did not want or like what was prepared, they were welcome to have a bowl of non sugar cereal.. Heck sometimes after planning, shopping and preparing a meal, I did not want what I had cooked and ate cereal.

They are children, but they are also humans. There are times, they just do not want what is served. It is not appetizing to them. They do not have to eat it, they can have a glass of milk instead. They will not starve.

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answers from Erie on

I don't battle, I set guidelines. I don't force-feed, but I can read their "hunger cues", whether that be hungry or not-so-much, and I will encourage "just one more bite" if I see that their hunger may not be matching their actually need for sustenance. We talk a lot about food, what it does for the body, the different vitamins and minerals, lots of convos about recipes...but we both cook for a living, so food is part of our daily conversation anyway. On Food And Cooking is starting to get dog-eared from two of our kids reading it, in addition to us. Seriously, we should just keep it next to the toilet lol! But that would be gross. *shiver*

One of my biggest "guns" is that I let them eat junk food in addition to their regular healthy diet. They also occasionally have something like Spaghettios for lunch. I am guilty of keeping generic hamburger helper around for those nights I just.don't.want.to.cook.anymore. So, maybe it's just that my kids don't feel "controlled" so much as they feel "guided to make good choices". They are within normal height-weight ratios for their ages.

And we love food. Love to prepare it, love to set the table for it, love to eat it, love to talk while eating it, love to try new foods. We hate cleaning up, though...still haven't worked that one out. Besides making the kids do it ;)

So, do I battle about it? I sometimes do with kids who eat at my house, because if they are coming for a meal, they need to understand basic etiquette when they are a guest. They are allowed to refuse food, but they must eat something. They are not to sneer or say nasty things about the food at the table. They are allowed to say they do not like something, and are encouraged to not take more than what they can eat. I am amazed at how many kids are not taught these basic manners. I've had kids come to my house and outright criticize the food as "looking gross" or "I would never touch that!" (please just say "no thank you"). There's humorous child-like honesty, and then there's bad manners. I would hope people would simply have a better attitude toward food in general and not view it as something to like or not like, but something to experience...like anything else in life.

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answers from Dallas on

My daughter has to try a bite of everything on her plate. I do not make her finish things she doesn't like. Eventually, she starts to like a few things. Still, there are nights I like to make things that might be a bit spicy for her. My husband is Mexican and we like spicy food! On those nights, I make her her own meal of her choosing.

So I'm somewhere in the middle on this one. I ensure she is trying new things and the things I provide are healthy. Still, I don't keep her from having the occasional mac 'n cheese dinner. I do honestly believe if you keep kids from having some of the *quote* junk, when they get on their own, it may become more of an issue. For example, my daughter has a sweet tooth... we get bakery cookies occasionally... She eats her meal and then gets her cookie. Over half the time, she won't eat the whole cookie because she's full and knows it's not a 'special' treat. So to her, it's not the end of the world if she doesn't finish it. This is very contradictory of some of the children I have seen whose mothers never allow sweets who will make themselves sick just to make sure they eat ALL of the treat.

Just a flip on a view...

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answers from Denver on

I am so with you! I pack a kids Cliff Bar (for snack time) and a healthy lunch for my daughter (fresh fruits, veggies, nuts, yogurt) every day and every day, everything comes home but the Cliff Bar. I have to practically hand feed my children too--but they actually LIKE steamed broc (with lemon) and a lot of other healthy foods too. They eat what I eat and I like to eat healthy. You don't want to eat what I cook, you will have to go hungry. Because if I gave in and started feeding what they would eat all the time...junk, they wouldn't eat anything else. And I don't want to eat junk myself, and I ain't cookin' twice! :)

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answers from Honolulu on

I nor my Husband, battle our kids about food or eating.
They know their bodies cues for hunger and fullness.
They do not eat, for emotional reasons or hang-ups, or out or boredom or just to please others.

My daughter eats anything.
My son is picky.
But no matter what I cook, there will be something there that my kids eat.
I am not a short order cook.
I cook what I cook.
I cook from scratch everyday.
I cook healthy.
I shop healthy.
I know what healthy is and what junk is.
I am flexible about it. I am not a purist.
I eat/cook/shop, balanced. For my family.
I even worked in the nutrition field for a time.

My son, though picky, has NATURALLY on his own, expanded his palate.
He eats and eats healthily. He eats until full.
I am not one to make my kids eat everything on their plates.
Not even an Adult should do that. That creates food hang-ups and food disorders.
Even adults have days of not being very hungry or other days of being very hungry. EACH day, varies. It is human.

My kids are both healthy, lean, tall and grow like weeds. They KNOW their body's cues. THAT, is a good thing.
They eat and know what is junk or healthy. I educate them on that.
AND I teach them how to DISCERN the media commercials about food and what others may or may not eat.
I ALSO teach them about cultural variations in foods and eating.

My kids eat healthy.
They are also just kids.
So my job is to guide them... without giving them food hang-ups or eating hang-ups.

My 'picky' Son, LOVES asparagus and artichokes and plain lettuce.
He also loves home-made BBQ chicken.
My Daughter, likes Escargot and edamame, Sashimi, poke, cheese and most anything exotic or banal. She will try anything.

Here in Hawaii, the food choices are very exotic, healthy, and locally grown. We try it all and so do my kids. We eat regional foods and foods from all over the world... because I cook, internationally. And because I cook from scratch, I can cook healthy and know darn well how to adjust recipes to make it the way I want it.

My kids do have healthy taste-buds and also taste-buds that are adventurous. But I don't hammer them about eating "healthy." I just teach them it, by the way I cook and how I approach eating/cooking.
And sure, they eat what they want to too... at parties, for treats, at friend's homes etc. They are not cloistered, in their palates. I let them... try things and why not.
They know everyone eats differently.

Healthy eating.... really varies in interpretation.
And culturally.
And regionally.

I do not... hand feed my kids. I don't force them to eat. We do not battle them about eating. We do not punish or reward about eating.
ALL of that... creates food hang-ups and dysfunctions.
The best way to eat, is to go by your body's cues for hunger and fullness.

I never fight with my kids, about eating.
Never have to.
We don't have food battles or eating battles.

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answers from Dallas on

We do. Now, my son is only 27 months...very young still. He has only ever eaten what we serve. He knows no different. He is finicky about trying new things, but if we leave it on his tray he will try. He will try everything we put down, and he eventually eats it. We don't even keep the "kid" food in the house. The only time he gets those, are if we are out of the home...and it's very infrequently. If we are at a birthday party or something of that nature, he can eat wherever food is served. I am hoping that he will understand, those kinds of foods are treats. They only happen every once and a while, and we don't eat that in our home. (But he is always allowed at special occasions, holidays, etc. We just don't keep them here.) I hope it works. We eat very healthy, and that's important to me. It's one battle I will always choose. It affects him for the rest of his life. I don't want to give in and start feeding him junk, to make life easier. I'm hoping we won't have to battle, by fostering good habits and a palette for healthy food, from the very beginning. We'll see!

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answers from Las Vegas on

My son is 5 now and is somewhat willing to try something new. I use to fight a lot to get him to try something that was a better choice for him. I still can't really get him to eat anything green (he's been like since he was younger). Though he is getting better about trying raw spinach and lettuce. I usually give him a couple of things I know he'll eat and if it's something new I want him to try I would give him it first before anything else. I've learned that he'll eat what I want him to when he's ready to. Every now and then he'll surprise me and just take something that he's never tried from my plate and try it. There are times where, if I make something I know he won't eat, he'll get something else. If he had it his way he would only eat chicken fingers and fries all day long. That is one meal he gets every once in a while. I always make sure that during the day he has fruit and veggies. He's really good at eating apples, bananas, peaches, mandarin oranges, carrots and red bell peppers.

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answers from Phoenix on

I cook healthy and prepare many whole foods things from scratch. My children are 4 and 6 and that's just what they're used to. I've found that many junk foods can get a makeover. I make my own chicken nuggets by breading the chicken in egg and whole wheat flour/salt/pepper and baking it. I usually serve it on top of a salad and the kids still like it. I make cookies with whole wheat flour, applesauce, oats, raisins, nuts, coconut oil, sweetened with a natural sweetener. So we get to eat treats (like yummy smoothies in my Vitamix blender) and kid-friendly food, but a healthy version of it.

Yes, it can be a battle, but probably not as exhausting for me as what you described. It could be that your child is naturally a pickier eater. But one thing that has taken a little bit of struggle away is that I don't force them to eat, but what I made for the meal is all that is offered or allowed for them to eat. And if they refuse to eat, then I put it in the fridge. Next time they are hungry (which is bound to happen eventually) I pull out their plate of food and reheat it. We don't have to fight about it. I just say, "If you are hungry you're welcome to eat what I made for dinner." If they are upset about eating their leftovers or about what's served for dinner, I just empathize with them but I don't give in (Love and Logic parenting). They've had last night's dinner for breakfast before. Generally they are pretty good eaters because they know that what I made is all there is to eat. Once they were eating a salad I brought to a park for lunch and a lady wondered how I was able to get such little kids to eat salad. Well, they were hungry and all I had was salad, so that takes away that battle. My kids LOVE salads though.

Another thing that helps is that I've taught them why we choose to eat this way in our family. It's an ongoing discussion and I say taking care of our bodies is one way to love ourselves. I also definitely allow for exceptions so that they don't always feel controlled -- at their friends' birthday parties I let my kids eat the cake, chips, and even soda. They understand that for special occasions we can eat "sometimes" foods. Just like they sometimes get to watch TV or play video games, but not all the time. If they get fruit snacks or candy at their soccer games or piano lesson I let them eat it even though I sure do get tired of getting bombarded by candy from every direction, as well-meaning as the candy-givers are. I don't want them to feel like a healthy lifestyle is a deprived lifestyle and I allow things in moderation. I try to emphasize how healthy foods can be very tasty as well. But their tastes and habits are being formed for life now, so hopefully in the end it's all worth it. You don't want it to turn into a negative thing that causes them to rebel against what you're trying to teach. Just like anything in parenting, the relationship with the child is what is most important and a loving relationship where the child respects you is going to help you instill your values with your children more than anything else.

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answers from San Diego on

I mostly keep a stock of only healthy items at home. That way my little one doesn't have a choice of eating junk. She can eat whatever she wants. I don't force her to eat what I eat. Sometimes she throws a fit and I tell her that is all I have and give her some other options of what I have. Sometimes, she wants pizza or nuggets but I politely say I don't have any and I let her be - no forcing no asking to eat. She usually comes around and eats what we are eating or occasionally wants to eat cereal if she is not at all in a mood. But I don't make meal time a struggle. When we are out, I mostly let her eat whatever she wants. Sometimes, I give her an occasional treat if she finishes her food, but that is usually rare. I have observed that more your force kids to eat, more they run away from food. Seen it with nieces, nephews, friends kids etc., so just my personal experience.

Also another thing. I usually ask her what she wants to eat for breakfast (give her a few healthy options) and I try to make it if not on weekdays, on weekends and she feels so happy that she gets to decide. She always eats it happily.

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answers from Youngstown on

I dont' think your fighting for healthy foods to be eaten,after all that's all you make so that's all they know. I think your kid(s) are just like most kids and don't want to eat. I fight with my 6 year old every day at dinner to eat period. He doesn't snack on junk before either. Ofcourse she ate frenchfries without a problem they are like icecream or candy to her and different.
While I am not neurotic about only healthy foods I don't server chicken nuggets and potatoe chips for dinner either. We eat takeout twice a week and the kids pick it one day and my husband and I pick the other and sometimes(GASP) the boys pick McDonalds...and I am ok with that. I buy the indivinual bags of chips and only set a few out so they can't overindulge,I don't buy cookies or snack cakes,only once in a blue moon. I do not keep soda in the house . My kids like most veggies,chicken done almost any way,fish fried or baked,most friuts and that is their usual snack(much to their dissapointment). My 6yo has many days where he "doesn't like" something or everything on his plate so he eats a peanutbutter sandwich. I will not force my children to eat verbally or physically. A sandwich is as close as I get to a short order cook.
When I was growing up we never had soda or ate out. My mom rarely bought junk food. When I got old enough to work and get my own car I became a fastfood soda pop drinking addict.(thankfully I didn't gain weight)so did both of my sisters. Now that we are older the thrill is gone although I still have a soda weakness wich is why I don't buy it . I don't want to deprive my kids of those things.
I think it's great you feed yourself and family so healthy but I don't think thats the problem. I think your kid like most just dont' want to eat period. Now my 6yo who refuses most food would eat a big bowl of icecream,a bag of chips,or plate of cookies all after claiming to not be hungry for grilled chicken, rice,and steamed brocoli...if I let him that is.


answers from Houston on

Ive decided to feed my kids what they like but i make sure i only have wholesome options to pick from. Most people can do both, My almost 3 year old had today special k cereal with almond milk and bananas....then she had greek yogurt with cherries and agave nectar. Im about to give her 1/2 an avocado with baked waffle fries on the side. My oldest had wheat french toast for breakfast, with a pear. For lunch i packed her baby tomatoes and cucumbers with ranch, an orange, crackers with peanut butter and baked chips.

basically those are some great foods mixed with healthier versions of "kid" foods.

Its kind of like giving in, but not completely.

ETA...my dad forced me into eating only what was prepared, it made me gag sometimes, i ended up sneaking it into the trash or spitting it into the toilet and spent a few years eating almost nothing and my weight went down drastically to anorexic proportions. He eventually gave up and bought me food i liked and now i study nutrition and plan on developing a career around it. Of course im not saying this will be the fate of every child who is made to eat whatever is put in front of them. Im merely saying it was my fate.

I like to think about what i would do if someone put a plate in front of me that had.... meat, pimiento cheese, green beans and sweet pickles on it (foods i HATE) and told me i HAD to eat it, and that i could have nothing else besides this. I would feel very mistreated, and i dont want my kids feeling like that. I want them to enjoy their food.



answers from Boston on

I don't - I don't have the time or energy to turn mealtimes into a battle ground. I do know that I am lucky to have kids who were never terrible eaters - three have been pretty picky at various points, one who eats everything with gusto, but no one who has gone on food strikes or anything like that. I don't know what I would have done with a truly bad eater.

When my kids have gone through picky phases, I indulge them in the sense that if they suddenly don't like tomato sauce, then I'll serve their pasta portion without sauce or will make their section of the pizza sauceless. Almost none of my kids likes potatoes, so DH and I have them with fish (which only one of them will eat) while the other three have tacos. My great eater and I like squash and the rest don't, so I cook all kinds of squash for us and give the rest of the family baby carrots.

Our "rule" is that dessert is for after dinner. If you didn't eat dinner, there's no reason to have dessert. For eating dinner, they have to eat the veggies and protein (which are always very small portions of food that they like). If they're not hungry, then they can get up and dinner will stay on the table for a little while and if they're hungry later, they are welcome to heat up their plate and finish their meal but can't have other snacks instead. Dessert, btw, is more of a pre-bedtime snack. Sometimes we have something sweet like ice cream, but last night they all had carrots dipped in peanut butter. We're very matter-of-fact about it and that seems to work. No one is forced to eat when not hungry and we don't do the "clean your plate" thing. I want them to recognize hunger cues and eat how much they need when their body tells them they need it.

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